This month I’m introducing something new to help make these posts easier for me for put together, namely a Letterboxd account where you can see the complete list of everything I watched in August. I update as I watch, so take a look at my diary there anytime you’re curious, link will be in the sidebar.
August highlights and thoughts:
Jock Mahoney! I watched two of his movies, Joe Dakota and The Last of the Fast Guns and loved his easy-going, unruffled persona, like the best action heroes. The bit in Joe Dakota where he’s pushed into oil, and then strolls coolly back into town as a literal “man in black” was amusing, and the whole movie was an entertaining story similar to Bad Day at Black Rock, with a great cast (Charles McGraw as the villain). Fast Guns was great-looking and nicely plotted, with Mahoney as an aging gunfighter hired to find a man’s long-lost brother, who turns out to be one of the many colourful characters who “helps” him search. A couple of really great discoveries.
The excellent documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, an interesting piece of film criticism on top of being a detailed cinematic tour of the various sites and sides of “L.A.” as seen through different directors and genres. The sections about minorities, corruption and Bunker Hill were standouts.
I saw a lot of Rory Calhoun and Jeff Chandler westerns. Enjoyed all the Calhoun ones but my favourite was Red Sundown, a film packed with story that kept unfolding in rewarding ways and introduced memorable characters (like Grant Williams’ chilling gunman Chet Swann) right up to the final minutes. Also loved Powder River, the twist on Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday with Corinne Calvet getting some fantastic dialogue as the saloon owner. Great bit in that one with a river ferry cut adrift while carrying a stagecoach. Raw Edge was a good, darker look at the cutthroat competition over the desirable women in town (Yvonne De Carlo and Mara Corday) after the lynching of an innocent man shakes up the community. Yellow Tomahawk was action-packed, with a graphic Indian attack/massacre. Four Guns to the Border was great, directed with much style by Richard Carlson and telling a gripping story about bank robbers diverted from their escape by the plight of a farmer and his daughter. Great cast and images in this one, including Colleen Miller and Calhoun in the rain, and two strong female roles to add to the handful of others in these Calhoun films.
I liked all the Chandler movies too, with War Arrow placing lowest in this batch and Two Flags West on top, for its twisty plot, fantastic cast (Joseph Cotton, Cornel Wilde, Linda Darnell…), and Chandler’s fine performance as an unlikable hothead. I see Drango gets some poor reviews for being dour, but I quite liked its cinematography and its complex, interesting look at the difficulties of the “conqueror,” a Union soldier, attempting to gain trust and mend rifts during Reconstruction. Calhoun is The Spoilers, playing a nasty schemer who deserves the beating he gets from Chandler in this version of the famous fight scene. Makes me want to revisit the 1942 version soon. Man in the Shadow was an intense noir set in the West, with Chandler as the sheriff who “makes trouble” by refusing to overlook the murder of a Mexican farmhand. His determination rattles the tyrannical (yet insecure, when it comes to his daughter) rancher Orson Welles, and getting justice will destroy Chandler, Welles or the town’s economy. Wanted to note how fun it is to see the same faces in so many of these westerns: John McIntire, Noah Beery Jr, Lee Van Cleef, Neville Brand…
Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison was a gritty prison expose with a super cast. Love seeing Ted De Corsia get as much screen time as possible, here as a sadistic warden whose rule is ended after much tragedy and hard work by reformer David Brian.
Saw plenty of excellent performances by women this month: Nicole Kidman alienating her loved ones as she works through the grief of losing a child in Rabbit Hole. Famke Janssen as a broken-down pool shark with a habit of making terrible decisions, trying to win back custody of her son in Turn the River. Jennifer Lawrence as the mature teen fighting through an Ozarks mess of criminals and lowlifes to find her father and save her home and family in Winter’s Bone. Reese Witherspoon trying to find herself and a new direction on the Pacific Crest Trail after her mother’s death sends her life spiraling out of control in Wild. Lightweight, family-friendly Honey was a pleasant surprise, with Jessica Alba as a dancer who learns the hard way about the casting couch and leaves the business so she can help inner-city youth build their talent and self-esteem.
From the horror/sci fi dept: Scream and Scream Again was a bit of a mess story-wise, but watching Vincent Price (with cameos by Lee and Cushing) is time well spent. Corridors of Blood was a “horror-fied” history lesson, about the first surgeon to develop and test anesthetic. Unfortunately that genius (Boris Karloff) also takes tragic detours into the underworld (where he meets Christopher Lee) and addictionto his concoction in the course of his struggle to convince the establishment that “pain and the knife” need not be inseparable. Not of this Earth was a fantastic Roger Corman movie with Paul Birch as one of a handful of vampire aliens among us. He just barely, awkwardly passes as human (so long as he hides his dead white eyes behind sunglasses), but is convincing enough to hire nurse Beverly Garland to keep him filled up with blood, but his planet’s world domination plan falls apart. Nice creepy ending. It Came From Outer Space has Richard Carlson desperately trying to convince everyone that he’s no nut when he insists a fallen meteor brought with it body-snatching aliens. Great one-eyed hairy monster and effects in this one! Sunshine was a Solaris-like voyage into far space madness with a crew sent on a mission to save mankind, and taking an ill-advised detour when they discover a long-lost craft and its psycho survivor.
My “blind Spot” classic for the month was the beautiful L’Atalante.
I haven’t forgotten about all my Joel McCrea viewing! I’ll do a roundup of those soon and just got word of something very cool relating to Joel.
As always, I welcome any thoughts and recommendations or questions about anything listed at Letterboxd that I didn’t mention here.